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June 12, 2017

Vanishing Point. Focus Point.

Filed under: Cars,Thoughts — chuck goolsbee @ 8:08 am
The road to Area 51 in southern Nevada
The road to Area 51 in southern Nevada

I hate Las Vegas. 

Actually “hate” is not quite the correct term for my loathing and aversion for that place. Vegas is a blight on the otherwise wonderful intermountain west. I can appreciate what Las Vegas represents; a manifestation of liberty. A sort of place where the concept of “sin” is embraced as an alternative lifestyle. 

I’m not at all a religious person. Philosophically I reject the claim that there exists any sort of deity that rules or judges our lives and behavior. Virtue is its own reward, not some e-ticket to a post-mortem amusement park. So it isn’t the “Sin City” aspect of Vegas that repulses me. No, it is something far more simple than that: Las Vegas is just a revenue-extraction machine on a grand scale. It steals from the people who love it. 

Recently I attended an event in Vegas. It was one of those rare gatherings of far-flung folk with whom all of our interactions are online. Vegas was chosen as the location primarily due to it being a relatively cheap and easy place to get to. The organizers/hosts are from Los Angeles, but attendees came from all over North America. The SoCal contingent drove, but most folks flew in and made a long weekend of it. I’m still seeing all their photos posted on Facebook. Famous Vegas locales where they went, things they did, etc. 

Me? I drove. I drove there, I attended the event and a bit of socializing afterwards, then I drove back. 

It is about nine hundred miles from my home in central Oregon to Las Vegas. Why the hell did I drive it? Well, because it is some of the last remaining true wide-open driving territory left in America. That is why. 

The Great Basin

If you look at a map of the USA, the Great Basin is just sort of a big empty space. A blank part of the world that ancient cartographers would have filled with dreadful monsters and nameless fears. Terra Incognita. “There be dragon here” To the west lie the Sierras, to the east lie the Rockies. The philosophically polar opposite cities; Las Vegas and Salt Lake City lie at its edges. In between there is seemingly nothing. Interstate 15 cuts across it’s right side marking a route from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City via Las Vegas. Interstate 80 is the sole artery that dares to go directly through it east-to-west running from Salt Lake to Sacramento via Lake Tahoe. Otherwise this vast emptiness is devoid of superslab. It’s few small towns and settlements connected by a thin web of two-lane highways through giant valleys devoid of civilization. Empty blue highways. 

Perfect driving country. 

Before 2000, my only times spent in Nevada were an adult-league hockey tournament in Reno, and a middle of the night layover in the Las Vegas airport. It wasn’t until I drove Martin Swig’s crazy “La Carrera Nevada” car rally that I discovered the real Nevada. Not the smoky, white-trashy, sleazy Vegas or smoky, white-trashy, slightly less sleazy Reno… but the wide open and largely beautiful Basin & Range territory that makes up the rest of Nevada. It is vast. It is empty. It is awesomely scenic in its austerity. 

It is also the last place you can truly “stretch your legs” in an automobile. Yes, there is the autobahn, but no, I don’t live in Europe. I do live at the very northern edge of The Great Basin however. 

Safety Nannies might clutch their pearls and gasp, but… fuck ’em. Hemingway famously said:

There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games.

True mastery comes from standing at the edge, looking into the abyss of death, and backing off just enough to truly understand where that edge lies. I’ve played two out of Hemingway’s three sports, and a failed at the basic task of herding some cattle into a pen before being branded, so I’ll take a pass on walking into a ring with an enraged bull.  Suffice to say I have a good handle on my limitations. I know and trust myself behind the wheel. 

What I can’t trust are the other humans on the road, who are so bored to tears that they have abandoned the act of driving so much that they yearn for self-driving cars to allow them to stare at their phones as they are shuttled from place to place. 

Out here in the American Outback, the roads are empty. Those drivers-who-would-rather-be-passengers are all either west of the Sierras, East of the Rockies, or are droning across the Basin on the Interstate. 

I chose my route to avoid even US highways  where I could and stuck to the most remote of the paved roads, state highways and county roads. It was bliss. 

Empty roads. Empty skies. Objective hazards measured largely in open range cattle and roadkill-feasting buzzards. 

There were stretches of road I traveled where I never saw another vehicle for hundreds of miles. I was utterly and completely alone for most of the trip.

What this sort of driving brings to the driver is FOCUS.

Well, that is if you choose to actively participate. One could set the cruise control and pass the time the same way I did in my childhood rides across the west, watching out the windows into the sagebrush for Pronghorns and Jackalopes. (I saw plenty of the former, and none of the latter.)

Or you can DRIVE.

I drove.

Due to some scheduling issues my trip to Vegas was split over two days. Friday I drove from Prineville, Oregon to Ely, Nevada, then Ely to Las Vegas Saturday morning, to attend the Saturday afternoon event. On Sunday morning I woke up and drove the entire return trip in one go, with only about an hour’s stop midway for lunch. Mapping software said the trip should be over thirteen hours long. I set out to see how many hours I could shave off that estimate.

I arrived home after about 10.5 hours of driving, alert and feeling fresh. How? I drove in a manner that many would describe as “reckless” or “dangerous” but is in reality exactly the opposite. I focused like a laser on the simple act of driving.

I played by a very simple set of rules:
1. When in or near any town, drive at or very near the speed limit.
2. When near any other vehicles, drive at or near the speed limit.
3. At all other times drive at the maximum comfortable speed I felt confident doing.

Given that well over 90% of my drive was on empty, well-paved, two-lane highways, with visibility often measured in tens of miles, it was very easy to drive the car at 80% of its true capacity. Being a modern, high-performance machine with tires rated well above my speeds, I felt very confident driving this way. I think I could have shaved more time off my trip had my car had a larger gas tank, or at least if I knew exactly where I might find gas along the route. Fuel consumption at higher speeds and “next gas in XXX miles” signs (which turned out to not be factual) forced me to slow down on two segments. It also rained on me for a short section through mountains in southern Oregon… for that I slowed down to well under the limit. Limited visibility and wet pavement is not the place to go fast.

Otherwise, I only made stops for fuel, food, and bio-breaks.

When I arrived home I felt oddly energized. Not at all tired. It was those hours of 100% focus. They don’t even allow you to become fatigued. So instead of covering ground at such a slow rate that the driver becomes bored, distracted, and fatigued, perhaps we should raise speed limits rather than keep lowering them.

It’s all about focus.

May 11, 2017

The Coupe is now on BaT.

Filed under: 2017 - Texas to Oregon,Cars — chuck goolsbee @ 2:45 pm

The Coupe on BaT

After our road trip, and some attempts at cleaning the New Mexico Road Construction Dust out and off of the car, it has been listed on bringatrailer.com.

As I predicted the wheel whiners came out in force, but have since settled down. With a day to go, I’m not sure yet who is serious and who is just a lookey-lou, but I’ve been trying to be helpful as possible to all questions, online and off. Really hoping this one goes to a good home.

For the folks wanting a serial re-telling of the trip from Texas to Oregon, here is a clickable menu that takes you day by day, with each in a new broswer tab:

Prologue.
Day One: Houston to Comanche.
Day Two: Comanche to Lubbock.
Day Three: Lubbock to Santa Fe.
Day Four: Santa Fe to Kayenta.
Day Five: Kayenta to Ely.
Day Six: Ely to Home.

Enjoy!

May 1, 2017

Texas to Oregon in a classic Mercedes 280se Coupe: Day 6, Ely, Nevada to Powell Butte, Oregon

Filed under: 2017 - Texas to Oregon,Cars — chuck goolsbee @ 7:54 pm

No matter how you look at it, we have a long drive ahead of us today. The space between Ely and home is vast, largely empty, and unavoidable. Both of us are feeling a tad road weary as well. We can “smell the barn” as they say and really want to be home. I’ve done drives of this distance many times before, but not since the Cannonball Classic in 1999 have I done them in serial, day after day after day. Mind you this car is far more comfortable than any car I have ever driven long distances, with the possible exception of my 2007 BMW M Roadster. But comparing those two cars is very apples-to-oranges. The BMW is a modern car, built with modern materials, and most differently, it is a very small GT/sportscar. This car is a luxury coupe. Sort of a class that no longer exists. If you think about it, how many two-door cars even exist anymore, outside of the sports/muscle/pony-car realm? The traditional manufactures still make luxury cars, but all of them I can think of are four-door cars. They even have the gall to call these four-door cars “coupes” Back in the day however, two-door luxury coupes ruled the roads, like Tyrannosaurs. Cadillac Eldorados, Ford Thunderbirds, Buick Rivieras, and of course BMW 6-series, and Mercedes-Benzes such as this one. Big, V-8 power, seats that would feel at home in your living room. Indeed, a living room on wheels. Our road weariness doesn’t come from the car, so much as hotels, and that unsettled feeling that comes from staying in them. While there is a daily routine, it isn’t our daily routine. Our longing is to be home and back into our normal day to day lives.

The route

If you are at all familiar with the region displayed above, you know there is a whole lot of nothing along that route. The largest towns along the way are Winnemucca (~9000 people), Burns (~3000 people), Battle Mountain (~2000 people), and Eureka (~900 people). The area between Winnemucca and Burns is vast, and once to Burns, we’re just two and a half hours from home.

Add to this, the weather doesn’t look good either:

Weather

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April 30, 2017

Texas to Oregon in a classic Mercedes 280se Coupe: Day 5, Kayenta, Arizona to Ely, Nevada

Filed under: 2017 - Texas to Oregon,Cars — chuck goolsbee @ 7:16 pm

The Middle of Nowhere

We have a long way to go today, so I set an alarm for pretty early. We hit the road without breakfast, and based solely on our experience last night, why would we torture ourselves further? The plan is to head for Page, Arizona and have our breakfast there, then check the weather and adjust our route. The roads to Page are US 160 and AZ 98. This will be my first time on the latter. Always love ticking off another blue highway off my list!

Leaving Kayenta

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April 29, 2017

Texas to Oregon in a classic Mercedes 280se Coupe: Day 4, Santa Fe, New Mexico to Kayenta, Arizona

Filed under: 2017 - Texas to Oregon,Cars — chuck goolsbee @ 5:23 pm

I didn’t sleep very well last night. Between the GI distress and being a tad weary after driving for three days… and then there was this:

Outside our hotel window

Did I add that it was backlit by a strong light. Right. Outside. The window.

I guess this serves as decor in New Mexico.

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April 28, 2017

Texas to Oregon in a classic Mercedes 280se Coupe: Day 3, Lubbock, Texas to Santa Fe, New Mexico

Filed under: 2017 - Texas to Oregon,Cars — chuck goolsbee @ 7:22 pm

Levelland, Texas

“Soft Lubbock Breezes” is what I have always called a 20-35MPH wind since I first visited Lubbock in 1981.The wind blows here all the time. In the four years I spent there I can only recall a few hours when there was no wind. Then of course when the weather got interesting the winds would really crank up and get insane. Dust storms, thunderstorms, tornados, snow, and even snowy thunderstorms! I used to say that since there was nothing to look at in terms of landscape, the sky offered all the entertainment. Thankfully today is merely “breezy”, meaning a stiff ~20mph wind.

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April 27, 2017

Texas to Oregon in a classic Mercedes 280se Coupe: Day 2, Comanche, to Lubbock, Texas.

Filed under: 2017 - Texas to Oregon,Cars — chuck goolsbee @ 6:26 pm

We killed some bugs.

I have an odd compulsion when it comes to road trips; I prefer to take roads I’ve never traveled. I have a great visual memory, as well as an old Rand-McNally Road Atlas with every road I have ever driven highlighted. I left the atlas at home this trip, but I know this part of the world well enough to know the roads by memory. Looking at the possible ways to continue, with the goal of going to Santa Fe, New Mexico, I see that just about every route possible is one I have driven before. Looking a bit west I see we can take a roundabout way: US highways 67 and 87, linking them together in San Angelo, TX.

We slept in a bit, and get a slow start due to last night’s late finish. Testa Rossa wants to stop again in Brownwood for a few last trips down memory lane. I noted in the daylight the bug-splattered nose of the Coupe, and decide to hit a car wash while she’s doing all that. The species of bug that we killed by the thousands as we left the Gulf Coast has a reputation for damaging car finishes if left on too long, so I want to get them all off ASAP.

We finally get underway and begin our not-so-direct route. Clearly Santa Fe is out of the question for our destination, so we scale it back to Lubbock, which should be an easy, relaxed drive. If I were in any other car, I’d be willing to push distances and average speeds out further, but I really don’t know this car. I don’t own this car. Before yesterday I’d driven it maybe about forty-five minutes total. Why push it?

We’re actually having a great time. Testa Rossa in an amazing traveling companion. She likes the car, and is clearly comfortable. The car itself is a very pleasant platform…

Designed by the legendary Paul Bracq, the car is a 1971 280se Coupe. Based on the W111 chassis, and mated to the M116 engine it is the descendant of the venerable Mercedes-Benz luxury touring cars from the mid-twentieth century, and the predecessor of the S-class which began in 1972 and continues to this day. The intention was to build a high-quality luxury car, with power, comfort, and focus on space for two people. This is NOT a sports car. It is big, powerful, and luxurious. This particular car is quite nice. Very comfortable seats, and best of all for driving in Texas, a functioning, original factory-option air conditioning system. We made use of it all day yesterday as we left Houston and drove through the heat of central Texas. We are making use of it on and off today as well. Especially as our west- and north-bound routes has me on the sunny side of the car all day. When I first drove the car about five years ago, the steering was a tad vague, but since then my father’s preferred shop, Eurocar-Werke has fixed that, along with several other minor issues to make the car a great driver. It is hard to give you an objective summary of the car’s ride and handling as two factors are impacting it in a way that prevents me from getting a good understanding; weather and load. The weather has been clear, but very windy. Gusty winds, mostly from the side, which makes getting a feel for the car difficult. Also the trunk and back seat are loaded with items. Not just our luggage, but boxes and bags of items my mother chose to give us. My parents are moving to a much smaller aprtment later this year, so they are trying to pare down possessions, and as a good son, I’ll do anything I can to help out. If the rear looks a little saggy in photos, this is the reason why. As soon as I can enjoy the car without these encumbrances I’ll write a solid review.

On US Highway 67 between Ballinger and San Angelo, TX

Meanwhile, the best description I can give is “Comfortable.” This is a very comfortable car, and I’m beginning to appreciate the love my parents have for this fine example of German engineering and craftmanship.

Testa Rossa knitting in the Coupe

My traveling companion is an amazing woman. She has achieved much in her life; an advanced scientific/medical degree, built and ran a very successful business, and subsequently sold that business to make for herself a comfortable retirement. She’s wicked smart, and can talk about anything to anyone, making them feel like they are the most important person in the room. I like to say that she is the fully realized product of feminism: Equal to just about every man in terms of intellect and achievement, yet still very much a woman who cultivates and presents her femininity rather than suppressing it.

So here she is, reclining in this comfortable car, and knitting. She loves to knit. She approaches knitting with a scientic mind, writing out algebraic formulas of what she wants to create on paper, and then grabs her needles and yarn and gets to work. Once the pattern is established, she loses herself in the rhythm of the project.

She tells me that she has never been able to knit in any car until this one, which is a great maesure of the comfort of the Coupe’s ride.

On US 87 south of Lubbock

In San Angelo we turn north on US 87 and the landscape flattens, and the trees become sparse. “Think this is flat yet?” I ask, and then always follow up with “It still isn’t as flat as Lubbock… trust me.” We roll stealthily onto the Llano Estacado without ascending the Caprock Escarpment due to our southerly approach from the Edwards Plateau, so the transition is subtle. having spent four years in this region I know it when we have arrived though.

As we roll towards Lubbock I reminisce about my student days there for Testa Rossa, who attended graduate school at rival Texas A&M in the opposite corner of the state. Lubbock was a “dry” town back then, still a holdout of the bad old days of Prohibition. Ironically you could buy alcohol by the drink in dining establishments, but to buy it in any volume you had to drive out of town. I point out the the vestigal remnants of “the strip”, the place on the city limits on US 87 where all the giant drive-through liquor stores existed back then (only one remains now thirty-some years later.) We go into town and I give her a quick tour of the campus, places I lived, and various landmarks, before we head to our hotel, and then out to dinner. It is a nice, short day wrapped up with a nice meal and drinks.

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